Ecuador is a South American country that, before I ventured there, I only knew for its rainforest, Galapagos Islands, and fields of cocoa plants.
But after spending almost a year in Ecuador, I learned that this country had more to offer than I ever could have imagined.
It’s my favorite country that I’ve ever visited, and I highly recommend that you put Ecuador at the top of your travel bucket list.
And in case you decide to follow my advice, I put together a list of some of my favorite things to see while you’re there.
Cobble streets, food markets, beautiful cathedrals. Quito’s Old Town (or District Historico) is one of the capital city’s most exciting features for any traveler coming through.
When I first walked into Old Town, I instantly felt the fun, welcoming vibrancy of New Orleans mixed with the quaint, romantic atmosphere of Paris.
I highly recommend just walking around and trying to stay away from an itinerary for the afternoon while you’re in Old Town. There’s so much to stumble upon, and tons of hidden pockets of shops and restaurants, that most of the fun is in discovering.
Many of the larger cathedrals are open to the public, and a lot of them offer tours or have museums attached to them to explore more of the history of the city.
You’ll walk by restaurants with all kinds of cuisine, ranging from authentic Ecuadorian food to Italian pasta and pizza dishes.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend sitting outside at one of the many quaint Ecuadorian cafes and trying a dish of arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp) with llapingachos (potato patties with cheese).
You’re guaranteed to find a delicious glass of vino tinto (red wine) to sip with your meal as well. Don’t hesitate to try some of the street food that you pass by! Empanadas and choclo (dried corn) are popular street food snacks to stumble upon.
Before you head out of Old Town with a full belly and happy heart, make sure you check out Plaza Grande, the main square. You’ll want to stop and soak it all up before you leave, as well as snap some obligatory pictures.
While you’re in Quito, heading up to the top of the Pichincha Volcano is a necessary adventure.
If you’re an experienced hiker and outdoor adventurer who’s looking for a multi-day challenge, there are several paths to hike up the volcano.
But, if you’re like me and honestly want the amazing views while still sipping on a cappuccino and relaxing with friends, taking the Teleferico is a perfect option for getting to the top of Pichincha.
The Teleferico is a gondola lift located in the capital city of Quito. At only $8.50 a person, it’s an extremely affordable way to see an amazing view. To be honest, I would have paid way more to experience the top of Pichincha.
The gondola ride is only about 15 minutes, but the ride itself is breathtaking as well as the view at the top. If you’re afraid of heights, just know that the ride up the mountain is eerie at some points.
If you’ve never ridden a gondola and are worried about your fear of heights, maybe try another activity!
Once you’re up at the top, you can grab a snack, coffee, or hot chocolate from the cafe. I recommend bringing a blanket and some food to enjoy a picnic, as long as it’s during the warmer months of the year!
If you’re wanting a bit more of an adventure while you’re up there, they have bikes to rent for mountain biking, as well as options for paragliding and camping.
Mindo, Ecuador is famous for its canopy ziplining tours. If you’ve never tried ziplining, but are in the mood for an adventure, I highly recommend trying it. But just like the Teleferico gondola, this activity is a bit terrifying for those that hate heights.
But, if you think flying through trees in the Amazon Rainforest , it will probably be one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do.
Mindo Canopy is one of Mindo’s most popular and best rated ziplining tour companies, and I had multiple friends who recommended them to me before I signed up.
When you arrive, you’ll just have to pay $20 for the whole experience-gear and training included!
Your team will take you through the general safety guidelines, and two professionals will accompany you through the whole experience.
Ziplining in Ecuador was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was a bit scary at times, but I never felt unsafe. If you have any interest at all, you should definitely go for it.
The Otavalo Market is South America’s largest outdoor market. You can spend all day walking through this market, looking at textiles, bags, clothes, and other traditional Ecuadorian goods.
This market is a must-see while you’re in Ecuador, and it’s where you could pick up most of your souvenirs to take home.
It’s important to know that although most of the market is made up of handmade artisan goods, you’ll still find some imported, non-traditional items for sale. These will be a bit cheaper but not authentic.
When you’re done with the market, you can find one of the many cafes that serve good coffee, freshly baked bread, and a lot of handmade ice cream.
If you’re coming to Otavalo from Quito, you can hop on a two-hour bus ride for only $2.50 each way.
Montanita is a beautiful beach town on the coast of Ecuador, but it is not a quiet, relaxing beach getaway that you might be imagining.
Montanita is the party center of Ecuador, and it brings in a mix of tourists and backpackers from all over the world.
I went to Montanita for a weekend trip with a few of my friends from Quito. Taking a bus from Quito is not the easiest experience because it was about 10 hours in total by the time you have a layover in Guayaquil (another major city in Ecuador).
But, the entire bus trip only cost me $15 each way, which made the experience fully worth it.
Montanita is covered in adorable, welcoming hostels right on the beach. We ended up booking a room at the Hidden House Hostel, which was one of the more quiet, secluded hostels in the town.
We got a shared room for only $10 a night, and the hostel was right on the beach!
The hostel’s bar served amazing Argentinian wine that we drank on the beach at sunset, and when we woke up the next day, we had coffee while doing sunrise yoga.
Montanita is also known for its nightlife and epic parties. On the second night there, we hopped from club to club and met people from all over the world. I also had the best pina colada I’ve ever had hands down.
If you’re in the mood for an exciting beach getaway with drinks, good food, and fun parties, Montanita is a must-visit to add to your list.
Baños de Agua Santa is a city in Ecuador, not a name for a fancy bathroom. The city is famous for its natural hot springs and rainforest adventures, and is located in a valley beneath a volcano in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
If that isn’t convincing enough, what about waterfalls, shopping, delicious food, and bungee jumping?
We spent about four days in Banos, and honestly could have stayed longer. We spent the days hiking, shopping, and exploring as many waterfalls as we could find.
At night we enjoyed the hot thermal baths, also known as natural hot springs. I was too much of a scaredy cat, but my friend even bungee jumped off of a bridge on our last day there.
If you’re traveling from Quito, you can take a four hour bus ride to Baños for about $5.
Other Important Things to Know About Ecuador
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Ecuador uses the U.S. Dollar as their main form of currency, so if you’re traveling from the United States, you’re set to go! Because I flew from Florida, I had a layover in Panama City, Panama.
While I was in the airport I realized that Panama is not on the dollar, so I had to convert some cash to use on lunch and coffee. If you’re going to have a long layover, make sure you check the currency of the country you’ll be in.
Getting around by bus
I’ve mentioned it a bit in the article, but the bus system in Ecuador is inexpensive and easy to navigate.
I got to Montanita for $15, Banos for $5, and Otavalo for $2.50. I’ve never experienced rates that cheap anywhere else that I’ve traveled.
If you’re willing to rough it a bit and potentially get a bus driver that zooms around mountainside curves without slowing down, a bus is the way to go.
If you’re on a bit of a looser budget, you can also fly between most cities in Ecuador as well.
Everyone is Welcoming
Ecuadorian culture is vibrant and hospitable. Everywhere you go, you’ll find someone who will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed.
Make sure you let people help you and embrace the hospitality of Ecuadorian culture.
As you can see, Ecuador is a country with so much to offer. You’ll find adventure, good food, beautiful scenery, and kind people wherever you go in the country.
If you haven’t yet visited Ecuador, you won’t regret moving it to the top of your destination list.